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Wednesday, 14 September 2016

Walkies with my aunty (Βόλτες με την θεία)

My Kiwi aunt who is somewhat advanced in years has come to her homeland on a short visit. She asked me to help her do some shopping. I picked her up yesterday and drove her into town, parking the car on the outskirts of the city, on a street which marks the break between the residential and commercial parts of the town.

- How much do you pay to park here?

I wasn't surprised to hear Thia ask this question. Where she lives, she has to buy parking space to park her own car outside her own home. Imagine her surprise when I told her it was free! I helped her to get out of the car, and we began walking towards the shops. Although she walks very slowly and with a stick, her steps are very firm and she doesn't get tired.

- Is this where (an old friend of hers) lived?

Thia's friend, who had also migrated to NZ from Crete, had died many years ago, but she still remembers them, as she does all the older members of the Greek community of Wellington who have come and gone. The community is now but a shadow of its former self, as members pass away and their children move away and/or intermarry, so that their Greek identity fades off as it is stirred around in the melting pot. Her friend was a widow who had repatriated to the homeland and lived her last few years close to the town where she was born. I decided to detour at this point and took my aunt via another road to the town, where she could see her friend's home. We then continued on to the town centre. Thia chuckled as she looked through the window of a haidresser's salon.

- A lady's getting her hair done, while a dog's sleeping at the entrance, on a shaggy rug!

That sight must have looked like a bad hair day to Thia. It looked normal to me. If we hadn't diverted, I could have shown her the pet salon that opened up recently. We had just passed the green (KTEL) bus station.

- Is this where you take the bus to Galatas?

She was thinking of the blue buses. I explained the difference between the blue and green buses: blue is for the suburbs, green takes you to the villages.

- Ah! The cars!

In her days of living in Crete, the buses were initially known as 'cars' - there were so few wheeled vehicles on the road back then, and very few people owned a private car.

Thia remembers her hometown of Hania when it looked more like this.

We crossed the road at the traffic lights, and continued walking towards the main shops.

- We bought some tupperware together from somewhere here, the last time I came, didn't we?

Despite being advanced in years, Thia doesn't seem to suffer from forgetfulness. She knows how important it is to keep finding ways to remember trivia. We continued walking until she found her first stop: the jeweler's, not just any jeweler's, but the same one she had bought from before. Like she had done for all her grandchildren, she wanted to buy something for the latest arrival, a pendant with a religious figure on it. [A cross is inappropriate from a grandmother since it will be bought by the future godparent of a child.] We entered the store and looked around. The owner came out to help us.

- I want something 'good' and it has to be 'cheap'.

Perhaps Thia was remembering a different time when money was more plentiful. All over the world, our choices have become severely limited. She eventually downsized her original idea, settling on a cheaper version of what she initially asked for. We left the store via Stivanadika, the street that sells a lot of locally made leather products, which was close to where she would make her next purchase.

Modern Hania looks like more like this these days
(The music, a song about Hania sung by Grigoris Bithokotsis, was composed by Mikis Theodorakis, in honour of his origins)

- Mmmmm, nice things here...

She later told me that leather products are very expensive in NZ. Here, hundreds of leather items sell every year, bought mainly by our summer tourists, and the cost of such items is quite reasonable. In the winter, most of the leather shops close throughout the whole off-season. We came out of the alley onto a pedestrian zone, where the smell of freshly ground coffee from the Archontakis shop wafted through the whole street. If Thia could carry more weight in her suitcase, she would have bought some, but she says she can get good Greek-style coffee back in NZ too. She wanted to buy things she could not get so easily, mainly religious paraphernalia, which is rather expensive to buy in NZ. Karvounakia (little charcoals) and livani (incense) are used to remember the dead at their graves. There are many shops that sell these items on the Katola road, near the coffee store. They look very old fashioned but they are highly used by the locals. Many of them are connected with undertaker businesses.

- Have we got time for a walk through the Agora?

For Thia, there is always time. I am treated like a daughter by all my mother's siblings. We walked a few more metres up the road to the Agora, and as we entered, I noticed Thia being amazed by how many varieties of paximadi (rusks and crispbreads) were being sold. She wanted to buy something to take to her brothers' house where she was staying.

- Choose something that doesn't have sugar in it.

She knows the rules for old age: less fat and sugar keep the doctors at bay. We settled on old-fashioned kavroumakia (small swirls of dried out bread) that go well with some sharp cheese and Greek-style coffee. She insisted on buying some for me too. I wondered if she was tired - at that point, we had been walking for more than 2 hours together, which is quite a long time for an old person. We began to walk back to the car.

- That shop's closed, isn't it?

There aren't a lot of closed shops these days in Hania. You could say that deflation and market correction have helped cheap businesses to open up, selling mainly food, as well as modern services like nail clinics and vape goods. The shops that are closed don't stick out so much, since they are few in number now. However, what Thia was pointing to was not actually a closed shop. Its window was covered in the store's colours, a bit like a betting shop in the UK, so you couldn't see what was going on inside. I explained to Thia that this shop is actually open, but you have to press a button to enter . I pointed out the bell. It also had an OPEN sign on it ('ANOIKTO'). It's one of those shops that proliferated when the crisis hit: ΕΝΕΧΥΡΟΔΑΝΕΙΣΤΗΡΙΟ*. No one really wants to go into one of those shops, nor does anyone want to be seen going in there.

- Is the car close by here?

I knew she was getting tired. But I knew just the right place to make her forget about her physical state. We passed by a florist, who I waved to, and she came rushing out to greet me. I then explained to Thia who this person was: her first cousin's daughter (making me and the florist second cousins). Thia's face lit up when they talked about the old times in the mountain village where they were all born, and Thia told our cousin to send lots of good wishes to her mother who is still living in the mountains. As we headed for the car, my aunt was surprised to town cemetery looming ahead.

- Is this Agios Loukas? It was all so different in my time...

In her days, Agios Loukas was completely isolated from the rest of the town. Now, the graves blend in with the neighbouring houses. The road is lined with marble workers and florists.

Thia in London - for a little old Greek lady, she's well travelled.

And that's the end of our little walk through the town. As I forgot my phone in the car, I couldn't take any photos. So I hope my descriptions do the job well enough!

* pawnbroker's

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